Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Tales from Virdura: Reading's for Everyone

The scroll made a satisfying crackling sound as Theo unfurled it on the table. She loved the musty smell of the parchment, as the dust escaped and found its way up her nostrils.

Theo placed her finger below the top line of text, and began to trace it slowly as she struggled to pronounce the words. She was teaching herself to read.

She was getting good, too; she knew what the words meant, and could just about follow the meaning of the writing, but without a tutor, she didn’t know how to pronounce most of them properly.

After some time, Theo became frustrated, like she always did. With a sigh, she rolled up the scroll she had been reading, got up from the table and carefully slotted it back in its place on the shelf.

***

As Theo left the castle library, the two guards at the door looked down on her and smiled.

“Enjoy yourself, did you, Theo?” asked one.

“Yes, thank you Timothy,” she replied. “It’s good of you to let me study in the library. I just wish I had someone to help me.”

“Well, don’t look at me,” said Timothy. “I can’t read either.” The two guards chuckled, before Timothy continued, “I don’t see why it’s so important to you, Theo. People in our stations, the ‘hired help’, reading’s not for us.”

“Reading’s for everyone,” said Theo. She was about to make a quip about illiterate guards, when an angry voice wafted over the courtyard.

It was Martha, the head of the scullery maids. “Theo! Theo! Dash it all, where is that girl? It’s almost time for the Queen’s dinner.”

“Well, I’d better go,” said Theo, and gave a mischievous grin. “You know how Martha can be.”
The guards smiled knowingly, while Theo waved at them and scurried away.

***

When Theo walked into the Queen’s dining hall, carrying a huge platter of roast pork, she tried to be as quiet as possible, just like Martha had always taught her.

The Queen and her royal wizard, Solon, were discussing something about a murder. It was difficult for Theo not to overhear. From the sounds of it, a young girl had been killed in Carrington, and the village had called for a magistrate.

When Theo put the platter down on the table, Solon looked up at her, nodded, and smiled.

He seems like such a nice man, thought Theo. I’ll wager he knows how to read. I wonder if he’d teach me?

***

After service was complete, Theo hurried to finish the washing up as quickly as possible, in the hopes of catching Solon.

As soon as she’d finished, the rushed down the hall and stood waiting outside the dining room. The voices inside told her that she wasn’t too late, and that Solon and the queen were just finishing.

When Solon appeared, Theo walked up to him nervously.

“M-master Solon?” she said.

Solon stopped and turned. Upon seeing Theo, he looked down at her and smiled.
“Yes, my child? How can I help you?”

“My name is Theo, sir. I’m very sorry to bother you, and I know you must be very busy. But I’m learning to read, and I was hoping you might tutor me.”

“Theo!” 

Martha came bursting out of the kitchen. “What on earth do you think you’re doing? Bothering this very important man with such a trivial thing. Reading? Really! Reading’s not meant for the likes of us.” Looking up at Solon, she said “I’m sorry, sir. I don’t know what’s gotten into the girl.”

Solon waved her away. “Nonsense, my dear lady. Reading is for everyone, and I think it’s an admirable aspiration for a young lady such as this.”

Turning to Theo, he continued, “My dear, it would be a privilege and an honour. If you will meet me in the library tomorrow, I shall happily help you with your studies.”

***

The next morning, Solon sauntered past the guards outside the library doors.

“Sir!” they said, and stood at attention.

The wizard nodded to them, and made his way through the heavy wooden doors. Once inside, he wound through the maze of bookshelves, feeling rather proud of himself and the scullery maid, but also a little saddened by how empty it was.

When he got to the shelves where Theo said she had been studying from, he stopped dead in his tracks. His mouth dropped, and he raised his open hand up to it in horror.

There, on the floor, lay Theo. Atop her chest was lying a scroll, and blood was seeping through it. Written in blood (her blood, was all that Solon could surmise), and in very untidy hand, were the words:

REDDINGS KNOT FIR EVRYWUN

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